Fun statistic: 60% of women are the primary breadwinner in their family.
Ironic, that we’re now the majority, yet are still stymied by the glass ceiling and earn less for the same work, but that’s not my point. The reason I brought that percentage up is…
I am one of them. It’s no secret that I make more money than my husband; I once called him my “little schoolteacher,” as he makes about the salary of your average Midwest public school teacher. I have the 9-to-5 schedule in my harem. I’m also the provider of the oh-so-important health insurance benefit for me, my husband, and now, for Peanut.
My husband’s work is basically all travel, mostly on weekends, so he has several days each week free. Two of those days he watches Peanut while I work. The other three days, she goes to an in-home daycare, and my husband gets things done. His to-do list is a combination of things: groceries, Target, Costco, getting a workout in, and cleaning the house (yes, my husband cleans; he’s pretty good at it too, so I don’t complain too much). Our daycare arrangement is 3 days per week, which we have to pay for whether we use them or not.
I get home from work around 5:30pm. If it’s one of my husband’s daycare days, he heads straight to the gym and I sit down to feed Peanut. If he’s already been to the gym, he gets free time to play on his computer, and I sit down to feed Peanut. On bath days, I bathe my Peanut. I put away her clean clothes, which my husband has washed, dried, and folded. I sit with her and make funny faces, and watch her smile and coo at me.
At 7:15pm, we start our nighttime routine. A clean sleeper and onesie. A lovely dinner for her, served up by Mom (the menu has just one item: breastmilk, breastmilk, and breastmilk). Two books. Two songs. A warmed-up Snuggler. A wound-up mobile that plays Hush Little Baby. A kiss on the forehead and “We love you baby girl, good night!” from Mom and Dad. We switch on the white noise machine and away she goes to Dreamland. It’s 8:00pm.
That’s about 2 and a half hours, if I’m lucky, of quality time every weeknight. Actually, if I’m honest, only a little of that can be considered quality time (the funny faces, and maybe nursing her at dinnertime). That’s it.
By the end of the workweek, I’m in baby withdrawal. But then my husband leaves town, and it’s just me and Peanut, all on our own.
True, if he’s gone, I get plenty of time alone with her, but it’s just me. It’s a 24/7 gig and I get few breaks. She goes with me everywhere, or more often, I just don’t go anywhere. If she’s fussy, I’ve got nobody to hand her off to while I take a shower. (I do have great friends who’d be happy to help me if I were to ask, but I am wary of asking too much of others. Isn’t a Mom supposed to be able to do it all?)
I’m jealous of my husband’s work schedule. When he’s not working, he gets to spend the day with her, and hand her off at night to do whatever he wants. If she’s at daycare, though he does work hard to keep our home running smoothly, he has at least a few hours each day to himself, to work out or do a pet project.
It’s not that simple for me. When I’m not working, I am typically alone with her, doing the single parent routine. No time to myself.
Now, let’s compare our “working” schedules: when he’s working (i.e., traveling), he’s tied up for 3 or 4 hours in the evening. That’s it. He has the rest of the day to do whatever strikes his fancy: go for a run, shop for underwear, sip hot chocolate in a coffee shop, or write a self-help novel…whatever.
My workdays entail 10 hours away from home, including commute. I get up at 6:15am and I’m out the door by 7:40. At noon, I nuke a microwave lunch and eat at my desk while I pump. When I finally get home, I am handed a baby to care for.
And let’s not even talk about my workday routine when my husband is gone. That’s a 6:00am wakeup to pump, hoping she stays asleep. When I’m done with breakfast and getting myself ready, I wake her, feed her the milk I just pumped, get her ready for daycare, pack breastmilk, address any last-minute contingencies (poop, spit-up, a soaked outfit, etc.), pack a lunch for myself, and we’re lucky to be out the door by 7:35am. I pick her up on my way home, feed her as soon as we get there, bathe her, and if I’m lucky, she’s in good enough spirits to sit in the bouncy seat while I make myself a sandwich or reheat some leftovers for dinner.
What I’m trying to explain, very inarticulately, is that his “Me Time” total in a typical week is much, much higher than mine.
My only regularly scheduled “Me Time” is Tuesday night women’s volleyball league. I play for an hour a week.
Whenever I bellyache about this arrangement, my husband reminds me that any time I want to go to the gym, get a pedicure, or go shopping, he’ll watch Peanut. But when I have only 2-1/2 hours a night to spend with her, I can’t bring myself to do something so self-serving when I should be drinking in my limited time with her.
Like many Moms, I find myself in an existential struggle: wanting time for myself, but just as badly (and maybe more so), wanting time with my Peanut.
It seems as though being a stay-at-home Mom would solve everything, but I know it’s not going to happen. We can’t afford it – money-wise and health-insurance-wise. My mental health might not be able to take staying at home, either. I need the satisfaction that comes with doing my job well. Maybe someday I’ll cut back my hours a bit, or get to work earlier so I can leave work at 4:30, and squeeze in just a few more minutes with my girl. Sadly, as the main breadwinner, I don’t have many appealing options.
Before I had a child of my own, I used to judge Moms like me from afar. I would chide them (usually silently, but embarrassingly, sometimes out loud) for not taking time for themselves. But I get it now. When the day gives me only a few hours, and the choice comes down to Time With Baby or Quality Time Sweating On a Treadmill… my baby wins every time.
Should she win? I don’t know the right answer. I’m sure there’s a Parenting 101 book that will tell me I should force myself to take “Me Time.” But the last time I listened to a book, I tried to sleep train my daughter much too early. Screw the books. I’ll do what feels right, as long as my daughter is happy and healthy.
So if you need me on a Wednesday around 7:30pm, you know where to find me: at home with my baby girl, bouncing her on my shoulder and singing her the bedtime song. It’s not exactly “Me Time,” and it’s far from ideal…but I’m happiest when I’m with my baby. For now, that will have to do.